Thursday, 29 January 2009


Moving countries, continents, worlds, plays tricks on the mind. While family are missed, it is friends that are missed the most, at least in this émigré’s book. Family are there in the beginning and the end, but during the thick part of life they flit in and out like butterflies, or crash in and out like rhinos, depending on the family. In the end it is friends that carry us and sustain us through our teens, twenties and thirties, even until we lose touch with those friends and replace them with wives and families of our own (or small Brazilian dogs and Wannabee Top Brazilian Models of our own as the case may be).

So with apologies to mother, brother and sister, it is friends that I have always missed in Brazil. I have made friends here, good friends even, but with Brazilians there will always be a line, a language barrier reef – jokes not understood, shipwrecked arguments, debates floundered on rocky grammatical shores and cultural faultlines. There is a word for this type of friend in Portuguese. I don´t have many friends, Paulo or Paula might say, but I have a lot of colegas – acquaintances, occasional drinking partners, someone you know well enough to cadge a lift to one of the beaches down the coast.

Colega - a friend but not really a friend. In some ways it often seems that Brazilians don´t much care who they spend their time with – as long as there is someone there to talk to. This can often be taken for tremendous friendliness, and while it is friendly, it sometimes feels more like a puppyish desire for company and affection from any petting hand that might be around.

The Girl With One Of The Biggest Smiles In The World, for example, who is definitely a colega and not a friend, and perhaps not even a colega (though is of course a very nice person), when told of Mr X’s trip to Sao Luis and Belem, leapt to her shapely feet and clapped her shapely hands. That’s wonderful, she said, I want to go there too. Let’s go together! Mr X has exchanged handfuls of small talk with TGWOOTBSITW, and once a lift from one place to another place that was 5 minutes drive away from the first place. And now TGWOOTBSITW is proposing a two week cross country trip together, a trip which will involve several 30+ hour bus trips, sitting shapely cheek by shapely jowl, and over fourteen nights in cosily shared accommodation. Which makes such an enthusiastic response as hers, to any chilly hearted celtic anglo-saxon, as confusing as questions such as where do clouds come from and why don´t bicycles fall over.

But this is not the reason for writing. My own response to the absence of friends I have known for twenty or even thirty years, friends that have helped me through work and relationship troubles, friends that have helped me financially, friends with whom I have spent the moments that form the memories and the experiences that make up the essence of who I am, is to carry them with me everywhere.

I hear their voices - their criticisms, their jokes, their anger, their happiness - wherever I go. Different friends appear to me at different times. When I stand on the terraces at Arruda and watch Santa Cruz, I am accompanied by friends with whom I stood on the terraces at Maine Road and watched Manchester City. This Adilson, we might say about Santa's clownish left-back, is worse than Michael Bloody Frontzeck was! When I am drinking in a bar, often alone, I am accompanied by the friends who followed me all the way to a thousand closing times, beer by beer, shot by shot, in Belfast and Manchester and London and a hundred points in between. There are distant friends, distant voices that I hear when a beautiful girl walks past in the street, when the sky turns a particular shade of orange and pink at the end of the day. There is a friend for music, a friend for books, a friend with whom to agree that that skinny bloke with the glasses was a proper arsehole, wasn’t he?

And there is one friend whom I hear more than all the rest, that I hear in all of these places and all of these moments and many others besides, despite that all has not been right between us in recent years. I will not use the word gone, for this friend has not gone. He will never be gone, I know that - though he is now in such desperate straits that I know I will happily pray to any God that can help him, and this from one who believes in no such God at all.

All I know is now that he lies stricken and quieter than he has ever lain before, I hear his voice, loud and bright and strong, wherever I go, and I know I will hear him speak tomorrow and the next day and the next day and for year upon year still to come.

Thursday, 22 January 2009


Now it has been a long time since we have heard from Mr X and his adventures in the Faustian (but not Faustaonian, which would be much worse) world of Brazilian internet dating (his artistic soul sold in return for a few not so teenage digital kicks – and the controllers of this site would like to stress that the last line is a reference only to Sean Feargal Sharkey and the boys’ three minute masterpiece and nothing to do with any Glitter/Townsend-esque paedophilic shenanigans).

When last we heard, of course, Mr X was well on his way to becoming a cyber Don Joao, but it seems things have gone clankingly awry since then. Romantic adventures, glorious fun while they lasted, have hit the wall with doomy regularity. Mr X knows that a good heart is hard to find (and when was the last time that Feargal had this much prime time exposure?) but should it be this hard? Especially in a country when good hearts come so beautifully, skimpily, packaged?

There was Brazil’s Next Top Model, of course, the existence of whom elicited some gnashing of teeth amongst Mr X’s envious chums shivering away back home on the chilly islands. Brazil’s Next Top Model was dizzyingly beautiful (literally – she was taller than Mr X), smoke and drank like the Hurricane warming up for a few world title frames against Steve Davis, and had political views somewhere to the right of Grimsby (UK readers) / Newfoundland (North American readers).

And everything was going swimmingly with Brazil’s Next Top Model, until one night when Mr X was out drinking in Jordão. Mr X’s phone tinkled pleasantly. It was a message from BNTM. Mr X smiled – a warm night in Jordão, the air soft around him, a cold beer on the table, nothing to do the next day, and now the joys of love’s young dream! I’m reading your emails, the message said. Who are all these women? Mr X wondered - there weren’t that many women – a few emails to friends, cousins, work colleagues, that was all. Another tinkle. Another message. You’re obviously quite the romantic, this one said. All these girls on MSN. This was not so heartening – Mr X conducted his digital wooings via MSN. Tinkle number three. I don’t know if I can trust you anymore. Mr X briefly worried at this, before, like, the captain of the famous big boat built in Belfast (quite a forty shades of green tone to today’s ramblings), he had a sinking feeling. Do you want to explain to me, he texted back, how the hell you’re reading my emails? Silence from BNTM. A couple of hours later, she called with the not particularly teary explanation. I’m a hacker, she said, and I just wanted to know who I was getting myself involved with. What’s the problem? You’re not angry, are you? And the thing was that Mr X wasn’t even that angry, just a little confused, and disappointed that he wasn’t as crazy as a box of Japanese frogs drinking cachaça, which it is about as mad as he calculated he would need to be to maintain a relationship with BNTM.

More fun was had on Mr X’s travels, particularly in The Nicest Place In All of Brazil, Sao Luis, where Mr X met with another online acquaintance, one who possessed all the possible gifts a bountiful Brazilian god might choose to bestow on one of his favourite daughters.

One sunny day Mr X and Miss Sao Luis go out to eat ice-cream. Or this may be a metaphor for something else they are about to do. For example – children really like to eat ice-cream. And what do grown ups like to do as much as children like to eat ice-cream?

Mr X and Miss Sao Luis wait for the waiter to bring their ice creams. I don’t like a really big ice cream, says MSL. It’s too much. Very hard to…

Right
, Mr X says. Ok.

MSL looks at Mr X. Time passes. They wait for their ice-creams.

Of course, a small ice-cream is no good either. What use is a small ice-cream?

It is hot in Sao Luis, and the air is thicker and riper and more fragrant than in Recife. MSL chews a strand of hair and the hair is dark against the red of her lips and the whiteness of her teeth.

No, Mr X says, a small ice-cream is no good.

They wait for their ice-creams. A group of teenage girls in shorts walk past the table.

The ice-creams arrive. The waiter sets them on the table.

MSL looks at her ice-cream. Then she looks at Mr X’s. She looks at it from all angles. She pokes it with a spoon. She considers her verdict.

Hum, she says. Medium. There is a brief moment of silence.

Right, says Mr X, medium.

And they eat their ice-creams. Only, like the Jewish tourist set upon by tough nuts in Belfast and asked if he was a Protestant Jew or a Catholic Jew, he really wants to ask – medium big or medium small?

And this picture, courtesy of whizz-kid (if a 200 year old man can be a whizz kid) recifense phallic sculptor Ricardo Brennand, is a good a way as any of summing up Mr X’s opinion of the ways of love after such tomfoolery.

Wednesday, 14 January 2009


WARNING – 32 hour bus journeys, Joyce’s Ulysses (as opposed to Parson’s Ulysses) and a random selection of music played loudly through headphones may be damaging to the health and/or result in a hallucinogenic state of mind…

2.30 pm and Recife thick and heavy with chalky heat, where’s the bloody bus, ma? Late-late-late, first stop Caruaru, on the brewery float bumped dullthudding barrels rolled by grossbooted drayman, chock full of country now, chock full of the interior, leather caps and weather-beaten sun-dried faces (and not tomatoes), chock full of blether, he sneaks on with his birds on the corner and no-one notices, the ferreteyed porkbutcher with blotchy fingers...get on the bus and cause no fuss (what?), five o’clock and the sun is turning red, crusted toenails too, thick thighed cops and pointing their guns, grabbing the man and his illegal tweet-tweets, and then sit for an hour by the side of the road, watching bird smuggler and droopy bellied bus driver and smiling (why?) cops argue it out, then liberation at last, by God!

And ease on down the road, until more cops, and this time we’ve had it Fingers! (kicker-conspiracy – big cheese cops at the checkpoint couldn’t ask for their bribes with so many looking on – let Fingers go then nab him down the road to grab your slice – The Illegal Transportation of Animals Is A Crime. Now, Christ, How Late It Was, How Lateevening will find itself in me, without me. All days make their end. By the way next when is it? Tuesday will be the longest day (or Wednesday), night + night – Belfast - Dublin – Serra Talhada – Paris – Arcoverde – London – Salgueiro: starry starry night, this state (Pernambuco) the size of Austria three times over (maybe)…dreaming now, and never dream – she can’t be dead, can’t be, not Guinness The Dog, no, she’s with The Ex-Girlfriend eating plastic carrots – Good Lord, that poor child’s dress is in flitters – no, call The Ex-Girlfriend from Piaui (Piaui – animal/mineral/vegetable?), no water at home in Olinda, but no dead dogs either…

Of the two-headed octopus, one of whose heads is the head upon which the ends of the world have forgotten to come while the other speaks with a Scotch accent, and Piaui, will you never end? Fights over seats in Teresina, four hours late, five hours late, free to be whatever I want... poached eggs on ghost, now Maranhao, with my yellow country teeth, and Oh! Maranhao, Recife/Pernambuco nothing now, boring like Belgium, Maranhao, the thick fringed babaçu palms, red earth, red flags, red sails in the sunset, into/out of Africa, besieged at Peritoro, two hundred, no three hundred boys selling only corn and water, the air all gluey with poverty, now to say yes my mountain flower and first I put my arms around him (how late are we, how late! Head unspun, neck all rachety, crackling bones!) yes and drew him down to me Sao Luis 182 km, so he could feel my breasts all perfume, 76km, and his heart was going like mad, 21km, are we there yet, ma? And yes (we are, son), I said yes I will yes.

All travel, good travel anyway, and particularly travel such as this - alone and with too much time for reflection - is all at once the past (other journeys, other memories, long ago, fill the mind - this truck stop outside Caixas in Maranhao is exactly the same as a truck stop outside somewhere in Bahia, two years ago, with The Ex-Girlfriend), the present (trapped inside your cool, endlessly rolling bubble, the only real concerns are eating and drinking and sleeping and pissing), and the future (what will it be like, what will happen, when you get there?).

And now - tired, so tired - Ouricuri, 3.30 am, a sky milky with stars, a cigarette's autumn glow...Araripina, 4.30 am, a sky milky with stars, a cigarette's autumn glow....son, I'm thirty, I only went with your mother 'cos she's dirty...must stop drinking/smoking...